Global processes in the development of digital education, international projects, scientific research, popular science articles, speeches of experts and agitators in the field of distance education (DO) for 20 years, unfortunately, were ignored by officials of the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan. As a result, the domestic educational system met quarantine completely unprepared for distance teaching.

On March 2, by the decision of the government the educational process in schools and universities was suspended, and kindergartens were closed. Television programs are being conducted for students at home are being conducted on the TV channel AzTV-Mədəniyyət. The best schoolteachers are invited to a mini-studio specially created by the ministry, where lessons are recorded on video for broadcasting. For the first time in an urgent manner, without any preparatory work, without the relevant regulatory framework and specialists in this field, Azerbaijan started to use distance education elements.

Ilham Ahmedov, an expert on pre-university education and associate professor of the Azerbaijan State Pedagogical University, told Turan that this gives practical experience, and helps to avoid existing shortcomings.


- Was it too late for the ministry to realize the introduction of distance education?

- Very late. This is a serious mistake and an indicator of the inefficient activity of the Ministry of Education over the past 20 years. With the development of the Internet, that is, 25 years ago, universities and schools in many countries began to create a system of DL, which in developed countries gained a wide scope. Azerbaijan set a goal to direct oil revenues to the development of human capital and technology, had all the opportunities for the timely creation and development of subsidiaries. At least at the level of a pilot project, which, I am sure, would be successful. However, it did not happen...

Today, every state tries to overcome the coronavirus pandemic. Our government, thanks to timely decisions, organization and consciousness of citizens, largely coped with the viral challenge, however, in the education system, a serious lag was noticed because preventive measures were not taken.  The talk is about five thousand schools, colleges, and lyceums, universities, about almost two million pupils, students and teachers. How many billions of manats the state has invested in the development of education over the past 15 years! However, as we see, the education system of our country, unlike the others, was not ready to work in an emergency because, for some unknown reason, it turned out to be unclaimed. Why?

Now the Ministry of Education is forced to turn to television for help, deciding that the new is the well-forgotten old. This is because officials at one time left the situation to chance, underestimated and did not create a system of pre-school education, blocked attempts to create it, although over the years many country programs have been adopted to informatize education and develop the information society.

It should be noted that many countries used television lessons during the pandemic period for school education. This is not because they did not have DL. The reason is that the Internet around the world was very busy and the quality of the educational process could suffer from this. But unlike us, hundreds of electronic textbooks and other digital educational resources for e-learning, various educational interactive remote access training simulators were created in these countries, dozens of commercial and state portals and sites for the implementation of DL were created, which were opened during the pandemic and available to all. In parallel with TV lessons, these countries successfully combined different electronic educational resources, teachers regularly took courses in preparing work in the environment of DL, had the appropriate regulatory framework for activities in the conditions of DL.

It is noteworthy that the leadership of the Ministry of Education for many years assures the public that we do not have distance education because the Internet is poorly developed. However, official statistics of the UN and the Ministry of Transport and High Technologies of the Republic of Azerbaijan indicate that in Azerbaijan, almost 80% of the population has access to the Internet. In terms of Internet access, we are ahead of the countries of the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Unlike us, they all have Distance Education (DL). Moreover, at the beginning of the zero years, when the Internet was weaker in the world than it is now in Azerbaijan, dozens of universities with distance education successfully worked in many countries, i.e. if desired, the speed of the Internet is not an obstacle to the development of DL.

I will give you one more argument in defense of subsidiaries, which is necessary not only one more argument in defense of subsidiaries, which is necessary not only in emergencies, but also every day. Please note that we still have continuing education courses for teachers (as well as doctors and other professions) conducted in person, as well as half a century ago, that is, teachers break away from work, come to Baku, live here and go to courses, while this work may well be carried out remotely. In international practice, this has been successfully implemented for over 20 years.

- What is the reason for this situation?

- The root cause is that for many years, the education system has not been managed collectively, but exclusively by the will and knowledge of one person - the minister, regardless of how familiar he is with the intricacies of the specifics of the industry. It was believed that in practice "he knows better" than others what is needed and what is harmful to education. The opinion of specialists is ignored, and the team consists mainly of non-professionals in this field. Therefore, they are not sufficiently aware of global trends in the global educational space and innovative technologies in education.

For comparison, I will say that in Mongolia, DL has existed for more than 10 years and during the pandemic, unlike us, they successfully coped with the transition to online education. Listening to the reports of our officials on the implementation of online education, I am surprised at how they have been doing nothing in this area for 20 years, and how, using DL without any preparation and plan, they say that they successfully implemented distance education in a few days. Even, supposedly, many countries have adopted the experience of the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan! What kind of experience? For 10-15 days, spontaneously and chaotically working, you cannot create DLs when other countries spent 10-15 years and tens of millions of dollars on this business!

Who took our experience when, around and almost everywhere, the DL system has been used for a long time. In which country there is such practice of creating subsidiaries - without a strategy, without specialists and other necessary resources? Based on what regulatory documents were these remote classes organized? Where and how did the teachers take training courses for work in the DL system? Who issued them the appropriate certificate and the right to this activity?

In higher education, things are even worse. If about 20 subjects are taught at the school, then at universities there are several thousand. I think that after the quarantine of the Ministry of Education, everything should be analyzed in detail and the “construction” of subsidiaries should be started from scratch. So far, the Ministry of Education has been mainly engaged in the construction and reconstruction of buildings for educational institutions, and it was proud of it; although construction is not related to educational activities. The Ministry of Education should determine and efficiently implement the state policy in the field of education, and distance learning is part of this activity of the Ministry.

The incident shows how great the importance of the human factor and personnel policy is, especially in such a sensitive sphere as education, since the future of the nation is formed here.

DL is a breakthrough innovation in this strategically important industry, that is, the peak of its informatization. In other words, the full-fledged informatization of education in the country naturally leads ultimately to a normally functioning distance education. It can be argued that pre-school education is an indicator of the level of development of education in a particular country.

The law of the Republic of Azerbaijan “On Education” states that pre-school education is one of the forms of obtaining education (although it has long been recognized in the world as a technology). However, while before the adoption of this law, the charter of the ministry indicated that one of the goals of this department is the development of subsidiaries, then after the adoption and entry into force of the law, the charter of the ministry reduced this item (instead of developing the subsidiaries, they were engaged in puns). When we asked these officials why you are not developing subsidiaries, they answered that we do not have a mechanism and a regulatory framework for this. Very irresponsible answer. Who should create them, if not you? Maybe the Ministry of Agriculture should create.

Thus, the Ministry of Education has removed itself from the development of strategically important training technology. I do not know if this is intentional or for another reason, but when the completely progressive world developed BS within the last 20 years, we just watched this process from a distance, and therefore we are so far behind many countries in this matter and are not ready for DL today.

- Do we need to change management or learn from the best in this matter?

- No one guarantees that the current situation will not be repeated or aggravated in the future because of difficult military, political, economic, natural, environmental and technological events. It is not yet known when the coronavirus pandemic will completely end. Even with short-term current experience, we see that our education officials are forced to rely only on the help of the television channel — that is, on the educational technology of the level of the 60s of the last century. They are forced because they did not properly develop the personnel potential and management to create a modern, high quality, affordable and sustainable DL. Some slight advancements in preschool education for the last month are due to the dedicated work of individual teachers.

Along with traditional teaching, there is online teaching all over the world, and students can choose the most suitable teaching method and technology, or combine them (blended education). Especially this choice is relevant for people with disabilities, for inclusive education. By the way, in our country for 10 years, a training program through Skype has been implemented for children with disabilities and its officials for some reason call DL, although this is not entirely true. The most amazing thing is that when the weight of the world moved to online education, we also eliminated this segment of pre-school education, making it impossible for children with disabilities to get an education. This absolute nonsense, it is not clear to both students, parents, and educators working with this category of children.

On the one hand, we want to develop inclusive education for children; on the other hand, we are eliminating pre-school education for children who especially need it. We want to develop DO, but we are eliminating what was.

Azerbaijan is probably the only country in the world that does not recognize diplomas of higher education received in distance learning abroad. Our ministry requires that a student remotely cross the border and be in the country of study. Although in the case of border formation information, knowledge crosses, not a student. The Ministry of Education wants to redirect our students to local universities, preserving the supposedly “competitiveness” of our universities. If you want to develop the competitiveness of our universities, please do. How? For 15 years, we have not been able to fully enter the Bologna process, create a subsidiary, and go up in global rankings. By creating artificial barriers to the recognition of diplomas of higher education, is it possible to increase the competitiveness of our universities? Today, diplomas do not mean anything on the international labor market. Manipulation in this case means self-deception.

Last year, a state program was adopted to develop the competitiveness of our universities, which implies joint training with foreign universities in five specialties of curricula, its implementation and the issuance of double diplomas. If a remote education system in the republic had been created at one time, then such specialties could have been increased to 100 or more, based on virtual education with the support of foreign online partners. That would be cheaper. If it happened more quickly, there would be no need for such a state program.

In 2007, a state program was adopted to send students to receive higher education abroad. A very good idea, but many students did not return home after training. The implementation of this state program could also be carried out based on subsidiaries. In this case, 5 times more students abroad could study for the same finances based on pre-university education. Since in this case, the cost of training is 2-3 times less. On the other hand, the cost of living, travel, insurance, etc. are not needed. After studying, all students would remain in Azerbaijan and work for our economy. When I was discussing this state program, I made such a proposal to the ministry....

- What should be done to improve the situation?

Due to their limited financial capabilities, our universities are not able to independently create a system of subsidiaries, since their official budget is barely enough for salaries and utilities. In order to build a modern system at the international level, each university needs at least 5-10 years and 10-15 million dollars.

A separate topic is the creation of pre-school education within the framework of high school. This had to be done much earlier. The ministry should give grants to universities to create a system of pre-school education for higher and secondary schools. Now we need to start from scratch - to attract specialists and create working groups to solve an urgent problem. Earlier it was possible to manage with means that are more modest, now the costs will be an order of magnitude higher when the country's financial capabilities are significantly limited. To create and develop a full-fledged subsidiary, you need a strategy, a professional team, full funding and years of hard work. Most importantly, you need honest control.

I propose to create a competent expert group under the commission “Science and Education” of the Milli Majlis for the operational creation of the regulatory framework of subsidiaries. Otherwise, as history has shown, we can lose in vain another 20 years. At one time, when they created subsidiaries in the Russian Federation, a group of expert experts was also created under the State Duma.

In the meantime, in the educational system, through trial and error, some attempts are made, some timid, unsystematic steps to introduce elements of preschool education, to reduce the gap between students and schoolchildren from the program. –0-

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